Friendship Day – The show must go on

AUSSIE DIPLOMACY MATTERS - Steven J. Robinson (The Philippine Star) - May 21, 2020 - 12:00am

During these more confined times what most of us really miss is the company of friends and extended family. With socialising coming so naturally to Filipinos and Australians I can appreciate how hard the past few months have been.

Our two countries are lucky to have our own Friendship Day – established by Presidential proclamation – and marked on 22 May. Each year we celebrate with festivals in different parts of the country. The celebrations this year will continue – except we’ll do it in different ways. 

There are now encouraging signs of businesses re-opening and people being able to move around their neighbourhoods, but we should keep up social distancing and follow government guidelines to make sure we keep our friends and family safe. 

That’s why we’re adapting our Friendship Day this year by inviting everyone to celebrate with us online with the hashtag #FilAussieDay. From the safety of our homes we can still mark our close friendship.

Many Filipino-Australian celebrities have supported our celebrations including Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, sisters Anne and Jasmine Curtis and young talent Ylona Garcia. These stars continue the deep personal ties that began with the first waves of Filipino migration to Australia in the late 1800s, when young men, mostly from the Visayas and Mindanao settled in Australia to work in the pearling industry. 

Today, over 300,000 Filipinos call Australia home and they are a major asset in the bilateral relationship. 

Our government links remain as solid as ever. I’m delighted to have received celebratory messages from many public leaders, including Foreign Secretary Locsin, Defence Secretary Lorenzana, Justice Secretary Guevarra, and Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, Secretary Galvez, as well as prominent Senators and members of Congress.

This year we will thank the frontliners responding to COVID-19 and the Philippine authorities who have helped Australian tourists who have been stranded in the Philippines to return home. 

Just as in previous celebrations, we will highlight the education exchanges that form a vital link between our societies. Over the years, more than 100,000 Filipinos have trained and studied in Australia.

To keep the education exchanges strong at a time when we can’t travel, the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) has collaborated with social learning platform, FutureLearn.com to provide free online courses from leading Australian universities to help international students stay ahead of the learning curve. Several high quality online resources including business, digital technologies and healthcare are available for free until the end of June 2020.  

Meanwhile, applications for the 2021 intake of Australia Awards Scholarships for study in Australia have been extended until 30 June 2020 in response to the impact of COVID-19 on potential Filipino scholars.

 While we can’t go out to theatres at the moment, this year we’ll continue our tradition of providing Filipino film lovers the opportunity to experience Australian filmmaking excellence and learn more about Australian contemporary culture. On 21 and 22 May, Australia will host a free online screening from Flickerfest, Australia’s only Academy® Award accredited and BAFTA recognised Short Film festival.

 And while many people can’t yet visit restaurants, Australian food and beverages are still on the menu. We’re offering a “Taste of Australia” by bringing together online retailers of Australian food and beverages so people can still share Australian made and grown products at home with their families. 

To join the celebration, follow the Australian Embassy on Facebook at Australia in the Philippines, Twitter @AusAmbPH and Instagram @AusEmbPH, as well as the hashtag #FilAussieDay. 

 Philippines-Australia Friendship Day 2020 is presented by the Australian Embassy in partnership with Australian companies Austal, Crone Architects, Orica, Prime Metro BMD, Qantas, QBE, Site Skills and Telstra.

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(Steven J. Robinson AO is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines. Follow him on Twitter @AusAmbPH.)

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